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My son, 2 and a half, clearly does not grok the concept of waiting for something.

If he asks for something, and I say "okay, I'll give you x right after we finish doing y", he'll say okay, and then continue to ask for x throughout activity y (even if it is something incredibly short, such as "I'll hand you your toy as soon as I'm done buckling you in to your car seat", which will still prompt 2-3 polite additional requests for me to hand him the toy while I'm buckling the seat belt).

Similarly, the concept that we're going on vacation "next week" seems to be one that he doesn't understand.

I get that there are cognitive milestones involved here that he simply may not be old enough to have reached, and I'm not complaining or worried. However, I am curious as to when he'll be able to understand waiting, and what, if anything, I can do to help teach him the concept of patience.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

This is something that actually varies from child to child! My daughter is patient and easy-going, and has always dealt fairly well with concepts of time and delayed gratification. My older son, in contrast, has almost no sense of time (he was five before he really figured out "tomorrow" and "yesterday" and "next week" and "in a minute" were not interchangeable) and is terrible at waiting for things to happen. For whatever reason, he just isn't good at keeping track of time, and that impacts a lot of other aspects of his behavior.

The best solution I have found for the Impatient Boy is repeat the restriction ("x will happen right after y") each time he repeats his request -- ignoring the question doesn't really work, and at least answering him is acknowledging his concern, even if I'm (still) putting off resolving it. If it's a question of a time limit (such as "you can only play that video game for 30 minutes"), then frequent updates on time remaining are helpful. Ironically, dealing with an impatient child is a great way to teach patience to a parent ;)

The good news is Impatient Boy is slowly getting better as he gets older. As a toddler and preschooler, he was quite impatient and completely oblivious to time. I don't think he'll ever be as patient as his sibling naturally is, but as his cognitive abilities improve, he's better at understanding things and we can have a discussion about why he's so impatient. That's something that isn't realistically possible before a certain age.

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With a kid that is a little older, you could go stronger than repeating the restriction, and just say "If you ask once again you'll not get the toy at all". And really do what you say, obviously. –  Guillaume May 30 '13 at 6:54

The first request for the toy was a question, additional requests are attempts to manipulate - your child is trying to control his environment. If he asks the question enough times, he might wear you down. At the very least, he is getting your attention. 2-1/2 is old enough to start behavioral training. After you have told your child that he can have the toy after you buckle him in, then you have several choices:

  • Ask him, "When are you getting the toy?" Once he answers, the game is up.
  • Ignore him. Or use the broken record phrase "I already answered that."
  • Be a broken record with your original statement. This may wear you out though if the statement was long.

Obviously, when the time span is long, there could be memory or time confusion issues involved that require additional repeats of your original statement. If grandma is coming in a week (7 night-nights, then count down the days), you may have to address it a few times per day over the course of the week. If he has 30 minutes to play, count down the last 5, he will come to understand over time that when you get to "one" it's over.

When you feel yourself exasperated, you are quite possibly out of he-doesn't-really-know-the-answer territory and into he's-pushing-my-limits territory. Time to set limits.

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The other two answers are excellent. One additional suggestion is to delay not by time but by events or circumstances. At 2-1/2 the child doesn't know what 'minutes' are, let alone what 30 of them amount to. But tangible activities and events and places do make sense and can be used.

So, "You can have the puzzle after your other toys are put away." "You can have the stick after your sister goes to bed." "We don't have any more blueberries, but you can help me pick them out when we go to the store." "You can watch a TV show only after you try to go potty." "Dinner time is over and you've brushed your teeth, so we're done eating for tonight, but you can have more when you get up in the morning."

Then, like the others said, it's mostly a matter of staying firm. Be prepared to deny them what they want if they insist on not doing what you've asked; some children will do this to test and see if the rules really are enforced or not.

Sometimes my son forgets that he was waiting for something. We find it fun to remind him and give him the reward, and I think this reinforces his patience. He learns to trust that when he is told he'll get something after a wait, he will get it and doesn't need to pester.

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Patience will be learned by experience. If you're patient with him when he incessantly asks about things, he will eventually 'grok'. At 2.5, he's not about to calm that stuff down, but I would expect 'predictable patience' within the next year or so.

The real reason for my post is secondary:

I'm no medical professional, but if this is a predictable pattern (especially if you can prompt it) then he may have something else going on there. I would suggest that you at minimum keep an eye on this development. I don't know that you could get anything from any kind of assessment at this age, but I don't think it could hurt if you have suspicions.

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